Tuesday, December 29, 2009
***Spoilers ahead, in case you have not read A Single Man (which you absolutely should!)***
The reason I particularly recommend this discussion is that it takes an interesting, and I think very intelligent, angle on the question of the final scene, which I recall we discussed at great length. Bergman does not think that George dies at the end of the book, but rather that Isherwood is using the playful "let's suppose" of the final two or three pages to both supply and subvert the traditional "the gay man must die" ending of so many prior mainstream gay novels. He also connects the final scene back to the "rock pool" description from several pages earlier, in a way that I wanted to do myself while I was reading but was unable to see my way clear to.
This particular discussion is well worth a look.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
Nick's millionaire Lebanese-born lover, Wani, is hooked on extreme porn and takes bucketloads of cocaine. One reviewer called Wani depraved, an odd remark to make about Hollinghurst's morally neutral fiction. "I don't make moral judgments," he says. "I prefer to let things reverberate with their own ironies and implications. That was one of the interests of writing this book from the inside and not just writing something that broadly satirised or bashed up the 80s. To tell it from the point of view of someone who was very seduced by it." Nick is as morally compromised as the rest. Or not, depending on your point of view.
Judgments are easy. Every person has them. Insights are rarer.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
First, for Gaelic expressions, the Hibernian Archive;
for Dublin slang, the O'Byrne Files;
and surprisingly useful, when all else fails, is Urban Dictionary.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
"Abracadabra," she said, pointing to its green shape coming out of town towards us."Abracadabra" is commonly used nowadays just as a "poof—there it is!" and so I think it is here. Alternatively, we're supposed to think that the sleek Virgomare is disporting himself now in granny drag!?
It is odd, I'll admit, that the novel ends so emphatically on the word "south"—when just a page before our PMVs were so determined to "Follow the allroads [a startling word itself] away southbound to the next level." but perhaps the irony here is that Niall's next level will be one free of Pour Mieux Vivre (as opposed to the 46A transporting Niall across the Bay of Biscay to the Escorial, some thousand miles west of Rome).
Lastly on the difficulties of the last page(s), Niall begins "to discern the first strain of something old and sad, the last strains of something new." The former must be the Miserere of the PMV. We don't know what the new strains are but it is worrisome that they are the last of them. Or rather it would be worrisome, this last temptation of Niall Lenihan in the Anal Hell Inn, were the bus not to ensconce and remove him to Mum & Da in Sandycove.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
anorak: a hooded jacket like those worn by those in polar regions.
bodhrán: an Irish frame drum.
braying: yelling, shrieking.
cess: bad cess to, may evil befall.
coeval: of the same age.
conkers: a game played orig. with snail-shells, now with horse chestnuts on strings, in which each player tries to break with his or her own that held by the opponent.
craic: fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation (Irish). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craic.
Dolmio sauce: a brand of tomato sauces marketed to kids in the UK.
Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti: incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi.
Asperges me, hyssopo, et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.
Auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam: et exsultabunt ossa humiliata.
Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis: et omnes iniquitates meas dele.
Cor mundum crea in me, Deus: et spiritum rectum innova in visceribus meis.:
(From Psalm 51)
But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.
Turn Thy face from my sins: and put out all my misdeeds.
Make me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.
flan: an open pastry or sponge case containing a filling.
foolscap: a former size of paper for printing, 13½ x 17 inches. Also, a former size of writing paper, 13 x 8 inches.
frogmarch: the practice of forcibly transporting suspects or prisoners through a public place, up to and including carrying them such that their limbs splay in a frog-like manner.
gom: a fool; a stupid lout.
knacker: Irish term of affection for low-life scum.
limpet: any of various mollusks that sticks tightly to rocks.
locked: drunk (Irish).
louche: not straightforward. Now usu., dubious, shifty, disreputable.
“oranges and lemons:” see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oranges_and_Lemons.
piss-up: a session of heavy drinking.
“plurality of bottles:” from Flann O'Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds: “Notwithstanding this eulogy, I soon found that the mass of plain porter bears an unsatisfactory relation to its toxic content and I became subsequently addicted to brown stout in bottle, a drink which still remains the one that I prefer the most despite the painful and blinding fits of vomiting which a plurality of bottles has often induced in me.”
snog: engage in kissing and cuddling with.
stór: darling (Irish).
swot: a person who studies hard.
uilleann pipes: Irish bagpipes.
yonks: a long time; ages.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Their website is www.giovannisroom.com
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Here is a glossary I compiled (for people like me with limited vocabulary) for Aaron Shurin's King of Shadows. It's in alphabetical order. Cheers, Ross
109 abattoir a slaughterhouse
152 cathexis the concentration or accumulation of libidinal energy on a particular object
135 contraindications a contrary indication; esp. a symptom, circumstance, etc., which tends to make a particular course of (remedial) action inadvisable
135 dais a raised table at which distinguished persons sit
135 la diritta via the straight road
127 divagations straying from one place or subject to another
132, 155 e lucevan le stella "and the stars were shining," from the third act of Puccini's "Tosca"
79 ganglia cystic swellings of unknown cause arising from the sheaths of tendons.
119 incarnadine flesh-colored
134 ineluctably unavoidably
148 inviolable to be kept sacred or free from attack; not to be infringed or dishonored
119 munificent splendidly generous
43 puer Aeternus eternal child, used in mythology to designate a child-god who is forever young; psychologically it refers to an older man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level
73 samovar a Russian tea urn, with an internal heating device to keep the water at boiling point
62 sentience consciousness, susceptibility to sensation
115 sybarite a person who is self-indulgent or devoted to sensuous luxury or pleasure; a sensualist
74 threnody a song of lamentation, esp. for the dead; a dirge
133 topos a traditional theme in a literary composition
136 vestigial remaining or surviving as a trace or remnant
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Nine Bookmen (including two first-timers) attended the Aug. 5 discussion of Armistead Maupin's novel, "Michael Tolliver Lives." Here are some observations about the novel that I believe reflect our consensus, though not necessarily unanimity.
Nearly all those present have read at least some of the six-volume "Tales of the City" series. Some had also heard Maupin read them on audiobooks and/or seen the three TV adaptations (the first ran on PBS, the second and third on Showtime).
With that in mind, the group agreed that one of the pleasures of reading this latest book was finding out what had happened to the main characters from Barbary Lane and environs. However, we did not get into the question of whether MTL is functionally a seventh volume in the series or stands on its own (which I take as meaning most of us assumed it is the former).
We agreed that the novel is significantly less political than its predecessors, with little social commentary. In fact, one member commented that the references to Bush, Iraq, etc., seemed "dropped in" rather than organic to the story (such as it was). Overall, however, I didn't sense that change was a problem for most of the group.
The switch from the "Tales" series' third-person omniscient narrator to first-person removes any lingering doubt that Maupin is Michael Tolliver, but did not jar most of the group (though I must say it did bother me, at least to some extent).
I also expressed my disappointment (speaking as a Louisiana boy) that the chapters where Michael goes home to see his mother verged so close on Southern Gothic. However, that was distinctly a minority view.
Overall, the group enjoyed reading (or rereading in some cases) "Michael Tolliver Lives." As one member said (I'm paraphrasing here): "Great literature it ain't, but it is a good summer read." Cheers, Steve
Maupin applies several techniques to draw us into this world. By assembling details common to many middle-aged gay city-dwelling men, such readers can say, “yes, I’ve had that experience.” The author is “one of us” and we open our ears to him. The references to gay culture create the necessary foundation upon which stand idealized versions of lovers and friends, either steadfast or returning. The camaraderie of logical family members taking care of one another adds comfort. A revealed secret about a father’s last sordid act is intended to add drama. A young woman’s sex blog is intended to add spice. Michael Tolliver’s choice to be with the sage Anna Madrigal rather than his mother at their times of need adds humor with the revelation “there is no fifth destination,” and poignancy with his mother holding the photo of Michael and his husband.
The entire package was not a completely satisfying reading experience for me. I would have preferred a grittier plot or more artful writing. The book is redeemed by its humor and its depiction of a small supportive community in a city with people like us.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Monday, July 6, 2009
Many memoirs have been published about fathers by their adult children. The ones that are worthwhile are those that reveal to the reader something significant about human nature as personified by the father, the child, or both. I didn’t find Cooper’s memoir one of these. I’m sure that hundreds of thousands of American men born in the 20th century have stories about their fathers as awful or worse than Cooper’s. It seems that Cooper wrote about his because he happens to be a professional writer.
I knew I wasn’t going to be enthralled by the book shortly after I began reading it. As portrayed, the father is a monster of pugnacity, vindictiveness, and heartlessness. No matter what he experienced in his past, his qualities are not those of a good husband, father, or friend. In his dotage the father is only exaggerating the misanthropy that has characterized his entire life.
Cooper is a schlemiel (a habitual bungler). I was surprised to learn he was 48 when his father died since his behavior, thinking, and speaking were so immature, irresponsible, and lacking in character throughout the memoir. Maybe his guilt for not loving his father enough induced him to avoid confrontation, attempt to placate unreasonable demands, and repeatedly return to the source of his torment in hope of better treatment, much like Charlie Brown’s constantly trying to kick the football held by Lucy.
As with the comic strip “Peanuts,” I found the antics of the impossible father and weakling son mildly amusing. In a more serious vein, the story of two seriously defective men acting out their domestic drama was pathetic. Toward the end of the book, the memoir had become sickening as exemplified by the following bits:
Cooper’s prevaricating and procrastinating to his father about the father’s stay in the hospital instead of gently telling him the truth
the father’s “bill” to Cooper for his upbringing and the father’s lawsuits against his daughters-in-law
Cooper’s vacillating thoughts about his father’s making good on his threat to sue over the “bill”: “he was my father, after all, the man who bore my ‘fiscal burden,’ and every son owes his father something.” p. 177
Cooper’s tepid reaction to his father’s numerous lawsuits against his sisters-in-law: “every time he mentioned the lawsuits, I felt sorry for my sisters-in-law, and my fondness for him was compromised.” p. 202
Cooper’s scruples about taking (“stealing”) the video about Hell from his dying father because he may “have denied him [his father] the opportunity to see the video for himself and make his own decision.” p. 194
Cooper’s reflecting on a photograph of his elderly father in Bermuda shorts and knee socks, observing that “he rivaled the gazers of the ancient world: Ulysses leaning from the prow of his ship; Penelope scanning the sea at dusk.” p. 199 (This about a man who has excised his new wife from the honeymoon photo and displays the defaced picture possibly as a warning to his latest love interest.)
I found two parts of the book touching: Cooper’s description of his brothers and the trip to the cemetery to “unveil” his father’s headstone. On finishing Cooper’s memoir maybe I had learned something about human nature after all. I had learned just how horrible a sado-masochistic father-son relationship can be.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
We had the unexpected pleasure of a visit by Frank Muzzy, author of "Images of America: Gay and Lesbian Washington, D.C.," during our discussion of his book last night (6/17). We were a smaller group than usual (four) but that enabled us to have a relaxed, intimate discussion of the book. Frank detailed the origins of the project, explained his methodology, and cited a number of events/themes he wishes he'd had room to include (an updated version does not appear to be in the cards). He also gave us some inside scoop on his professional and personal relationships with several of the key contemporary figures depicted in the book, and answered various questions.
He also responded to a critique of the work that is posted on the Rainbow History Project Web site (thanks to Philip for alerting us to that), which you can check out by clicking on errata.
I believe copies of the book are still available at Lambda Rising if this posting piques anyone's curiosity.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
As he makes clear in his memoir, the Acimans were eccentric and amusing interlopers from outside, folk that had arrived sometime in the nineteenth century to make a fortune and then mesh with the West. They did well and took Italian nationality to improve their social standing. Almost all the Levantines did this. It brought solidarity with the other Europeans living off the fat of the land and brought them privileges and wealth that was not available to most Egyptians. Since he wrote that book, there have been four or five memoirs by Jews who grew up in Egypt, each vying for the best remembered nostalgia of days gone past. Apparently for them, nostalgia for Egypt is exquisite and memorable.
Therefore it is ironic that Aciman berates Obama for failing to mention in his Cairo speech the "second exodus" of the Jews -- prompted when the state of Israel was founded. Obama, he said, should have equated them with the thousands of Palestinians who also lost everything they owned, who were looted, to use Aciman's word for Egyptian Jews, by the incoming Jews. On the other hand, others criticized Obama for daring to equate the Palestinians with the Jews of the Holocaust which, we all know, is anathema.
I was bewildered and saddened by Aciman's column.
It is sad--to say the least--that people treat each other this way. Actions have consequences, and for the Acimans of the Middle East the decision to carve out of state in the middle of the Arab World meant that their own place in Arab countries was imperiled. Why should there not be a reaction? The West has owned up to the Holocaust. When is Israel going to own up to the Nakba and make restitution? By writing this article, does Aciman actually expect us not to hold Israel accountable? Or is there some other reason for him to go way out on a limb?
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Ken J. was kind enough to flag an op-ed that appeared in the June 8 New York Times by Andre Aciman, whose novel Call Me by Your Name we read last September. Although the piece, titled "The Exodus Obama Forgot to Mention," has no gay content (and his byline does not even reference the novel), it is nonetheless interesting. So I encourage you to check it out. Here is the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/opinion/09aciman.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=Egypt&st=cse
Sunday, June 7, 2009
But by way of disqualification it perhaps should be admitted that I attempted to watch the first episode of the 1985 TV series, "Mapp & Lucia" (our heroine's name oddly pronounced trochaically) and found Geraldine McEwan, an actress I've generally admired, so irritating as LUcha that I had to stop the instant she and Nigel Hawthorne (Georgino) started babby talking.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
... though some passages' confusion seems to transcend idiom or reference (e.g. Georgie's hypnagogic musing "Sometime he would have bells put on all the shutters as he determined to do a month ago, and then no sort of noise would disturb him any more…." whilst being unwittingly burglarized in Chapter 8).
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
I am delighted to report that the Sumner School will be able to host our June and July meetings, minimizing the number of times we have to meet at alternative venues during the summer. However, our Aug. 5, Aug. 19 and Sept. 2 meetings will take place at my office building, 2101 E St. NW (the American Foreign Service Association), where we had our 10th-anniversary gala earlier this month. But don't worry: I'll be sure to remind you of which place to go well in advance.
In the meantime, hope to see many of you tonight to discuss the first five stories in the Berman collection. Cheers, Steve
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
An extra-curricular meeting of BookmenDC last week discussed Nobel Prize-winning Toni Morrison’s book Beloved that is now part of the new canon of American writing and assigned reading in many school core curricula – perhaps as the prime example of writing about the experience of slavery by a prominent African American author. The story is loosely based on a true story of the enslaved African American Margaret Garner who, in 1856 after having escaped from slavery, killed her children in order to save them from being returned to servitude under the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act. It is complexly told in a style that is Morrison’s trade-mark and to my way of thinking brilliantly serves this particular book.
If I may briefly sketch the plot, Sethe (fem. of Seth, pronounced Seth-uh), the protagonist, escapes from slavery in Kentucky to join her mother-in-law (known as Baby Suggs) and three children in a free house in southern Ohio on the outskirts of Cincinnati. Under extreme circumstances, she gives birth to a daughter named Denver during the escape across the Ohio River, who survives, and for a month Sethe, surrounded by her family, enjoys the taste of freedom in the home of Baby Suggs, a place known as “124.” Then her master (Schoolteacher) comes to reclaim them, and in a spasm of fear, dread, and madness, Sethe tries to murder her children to prevent this happening. She succeeds in killing one – known only as Beloved – and the others are saved or manage to get away before they are killed. Sethe is temporarily jailed but released after sympathetic abolitionists embrace her cause.
These are the horrifying events that anchor Sethe’s story, though they take place 18 years before the book actually opens. Beloved begins with Sethe sunk into a sort of paralysis, isolated, alone, neither living nor dead, her mind rattled by suppressed memories of the events surrounding Beloved’s death and of her former life as a slave, when Paul D, one of the former slaves of the ironically named Sweet Home, the Kentucky slave house, finds her and attempts to make a life with her. (Sethe’s husband Halle from the same farm never appears in the intervening time, and we eventually learn his fate.)
The story then merges into a ghost story – a traditional African-American folklore genre – as Beloved makes a return in the flesh to Sethe’s home (or so it seems), and opens up afresh the painful memories of the past. The sickening details of slave life, of abuses, killings, dismemberments and disfigurations, but also the instability and self-disrespect and perversion of home life are described in stark and lyrical, sometimes poetical language, largely in fragmented form. By capturing Sethe’s undivided love, Beloved drives Paul D out of the house. Denver realizes what is happening, and attempts to help her by joining the world outside of “124.” The “denouement” occurs when the neighbors try to intervene to prevent Sethe from hurting herself and to reclaim her for the community, but instead they startle Sethe who objects to them appearing in her “yard,” and provokes her to a renewed outburst of fright and grief. She is not successful this time, and Beloved disappears into the woods. Did she exist in real flesh? Will Sethe be able to restart her life, perhaps with Paul D? are questions that readers faces at the end of the book.
What captured our reading of the book was Morrison’s style and language, her use of unusual turns of phrase and vocabulary, the jolting and fragmented narrative style that slips back and forth between past and present, and the portrait of slavery and what it meant for individuals. As an editor for many years, language is highly important to her –see her Nobel prize speech, for example (thanks to Ross for this reference) – and in this novel it takes on particular luster. Margaret Atwood in a terrific review of the book in the New York Times described it thus: “'Beloved'' is written in an antiminimalist prose that is by turns rich, graceful, eccentric, rough, lyrical, sinuous, colloquial and very much to the point.” One is struck by her similes (I jotted down: old as sky, cold as charity, eating berries so good it like being in church), by her telling phrases for certain situations (sitting or smeared in butter, for madness; tobacco tin for Paul D’s heart), and the use of the word “rememory” (for remember), which suggests the conscious and deliberate use of memory to dredge up from the past those memories too painful to remember. But throughout this work we confront painful, hard and brutal depictions of slavery, where people are robbed of identity, respect, stability, love, where women don’t have the ability to form families (children come and go, and they are at the beck and call of service).
Her discussion of women and motherhood are key themes of the novel. Another is sense of identity, of which slaves were robbed. The reconstruction of self must begin anew upon emancipation, to individuals’ great confusion since they are unsure of who they were and what they felt during their enslavement. Names, which were allotted to them, are meaningless, and in Beloved slaves frequently change them to something else, more to their liking or sense of self.
Many of these themes appear in slavery elsewhere, and therefore are common to universal bondage. In Egypt, for instance, slaves in the nineteenth century sometimes objected to their names, which were often petty and even derogatory, and upon being sold to new owners or being emancipated, they would take new and more dignified names. The theft of identity, and how it impacts on individuals, has been discussed in a number of new works on slavery in the Middle East, perhaps with an eye to the impact of this book.
The newest work of Morrison is called A Mercy, and takes up again the themes of slavery, women, memory, and dignity. Reader Glen mentioned another book of interest, The Known World by Washington area author Edward Jones. He too explores the lives of slaves and ex-slaves and how they cope with an unsympathetic world.
Some readers (Tim, for one) founds elements of the plot “overdramatic,” and that they tend to cheapen the impact of the rest of the book. Among new historians of the slave period in our history, the ability of former slaves and ex-slaves to cultivate a sense of themselves and their worth in spite of the system is a theme being fruitfully explored.
I should also point out there were parts of Beloved that were written in a stream of consciousness style that remained mysterious to us (the chapters 20-23), and perhaps these sections were part of Morrison's "over the top" style that some readers have complained of.
Morrison is said to have wanted to establish a canon of black writing, but in this book she falls more in the traditions, on the one hand, of Faulkner and the southern school and, on the other hand, of slave narratives that project the lives of blacks without allowing much of an interior view. This interior view is what Morrison so fascinatingly explores. How does this work relate to the body of black fiction that precedes it? Perhaps not easily. Is it a great piece of fiction that happens to be written by an African American woman?
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
I've been meaning to do this for a long time, but let me plug Philip Clark's blog, Hidden History. Here is the notice Philip just sent out about his current column; scroll down for the URL. Cheers, Steve
I'm a week late getting this out, but since I'm writing about books and events from the past, who cares about timeliness?
I was preparing to write another edition of Hidden History's "reading roundup" feature when I had a brainstorm: why shouldn't I be using the column to promote books by people I know and like? And thus, this week's Hidden History is born:
Hidden History: The Favoritism Reading Roundup: http://thenewgay.net/2009/03/hidden-history-the-favoritism-reading-roundup.html
These books are all well-worth buying and reading. Enjoy! If you know someone else who'd be interested in the column, please do pass along the URL. And if anyone wants to take a look at previous Hidden History columns, the blog now includes an archive: http://thenewgay.net/category/columns/hidden-history
All best wishes,
Saturday, March 21, 2009
A couple of you have already asked whether I was perhaps taking my subject line too literally in sending multiple copies of the nominations I recently sent out. The answer, of course, is no (my work computer server hiccupped), and please accept my apologies for any inconvenience.
My thanks to Tim for his thoughtful posting commenting on the list. I encourage others to follow his example. :-)
Finally, my thanks to those who have already voted. I look forward to hearing from the rest of you over the next week or two.
As for the rest, though I expect I would enjoy reading any combination of the Leavitt, Hollinghurst, or Cunningham, we've already read works by these fine writers (Specimen Days would be our fourth Cunningham). We've also already read Gore Vidal and Armistead Maupin. I loved Tales of the City in its time but wonder how long in the tooth I want to see Michael Mouse. I read Myra Breckenridge twenty-five years ago and wasn't swept away but it's an iconic work and I'd be willing to give it another shot. (I'm considerably less attracted to one of Vidal's historical novels, whoever the titular subject is.)
I read The Object of My Affection when it came out, grew tired of the wise-cracking self-deprecating narrator well before book's end and have no confidence I'd get past the first chapter on a re-read. Blurbs by Mr Kite Runner and PW warnings of the "overly sentimental" make me leery of the Greer. And though I have some interest in being exposed to the E. Lynn Harris phenomenon, I have no interest in shelling out big bucks in hard times for a deluxe hardbound edition.
That leaves me with Mack Friedman's Setting the Lawn on Fire, with blurbs I can believe in and a favorable memory of the selection from it we read in Between Men a year ago. Plus The Pilgrim Hawk, Queen Lucia, and Wicked (all by writers we haven't read). Oh yes, and of course, Barry McCrea's The First Verse. Please give that your most serious consideration.
Once again I see
These hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild:
"sportive" and "running wild" certainly seem appropriate for our adorer of "the risk that made robust."
Earth receive an honoured guest;
William Yeats is laid to rest:
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.
continuing similarly for eight more stanzas. In other words, metrical regularity is also desirable in a chant. (It's a droll peculiarity of contemporary poets that even when they deprecate meter they'll boringly chant their "plainsong" to the crack of doom!)
And now a little story illustrating the virtues of practical intelligence. Years ago I was a stage manager for a production of Yeats' "On Baile's Strand." The casting is nearly all male, warriors and chieftains like Cuchulain and Conchubar. But in the middle of the play some women are brought in to sing a rhyme that will drive out deceit and keep men's oaths. The spell is some forty lines and ends
Therefore in this ancient cup
May the sword-blades drink their fill
Of the home-brew there, until
They will have for masters none
But the threshold and hearthstone.
We were having the women read together sometimes, sometimes apart. On one run-through, one of the women read the last five lines. She … actually all of them were education majors, in English, and were quite insistent on their "knowing" that one shouldn't stop at the end of a line if the sense carried forward (what Touchstone might call the Enjambment Expeditious). I objected that this would break the spell. We were disputing over such matters when the director simply re-assigned the women's parts so that they all read the last five lines together. Voilà! Speaking together, like good horses in train, they read metrically and comfortably paused at each line's end.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Thursday, January 8, 2009
The five of us present last evening (including one new member; welcome!) took part in a lively discussion of Kevin Sessums' 2007 memoir, Mississippi Sissy. We all enjoyed the book and recommend it, though the first half--which recalls the trials and tribulations of the young Kevinator/Arlene as he comes to terms with his sexuality, the loss of family members, and his early awareness that the only way he can fit into his environment would be to sacrifice his essence--is overly drawn out and cluttered with details. (I did not feel this nearly as strongly as did my colleagues, I should note.) But we all found the second half, where Kevin comes into his own (so to speak) both as a character and memoirist, compelling and masterful, and wished it could have been even longer.
Questions of authenticity and truthfulness arose, as they always will in the consideration of memoirs, and here opinion was more divided. My own upbringing in Shreveport, Louisiana (a bit bigger than Jackson, Misssissippi, but all too similar), where I was born about five years after Sessums, was, mercifully, far less Southern Gothic than his, but observation after observation, and character and character, in the account rang true for me. However, others were less persuaded, and Sessum's use of reconstructed dialogue (which he acknowledges in his preface), in particular, seemed to be a sticking point. That is a valid criticism, but I still tend to subscribe to the "If that's not what they said, then it's what they SHOULD have" school in situations like that.
A final observation: I recall commenting to the group when we discussed Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors a few years ago that while the events he recounts may well have happened, I didn't believe it--and more crucially, I didn't believe Burroughs. I feel exactly the opposite about this memoir, and I warmly commend it to you all. Thanks to whoever recommended it. Cheers, Steve